Monday, July 20, 2009

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Tom Watson at Turnberry

Being Sixty, Golf, and the Grace of Opportunity

Sure I would have loved to see Tom Watson win the 2009 British Open. It was a rare opportunity to see sports history and, more importantly, to see a gentleman athlete prove that perseverance and skill can win tournaments at any age. Yes, because I’m north of sixty, it would have been an affirmation that this age is culmination, not disability. And certainly, Stewart Cink’s defeat of the Turnberry course and the field of opponents is a major accomplishment not to be dismissed amid the romance of what almost happened. He played the best; he deserved to win.

Sport, however, is sometimes contest and sometimes metaphor, and at Turnberry this year it was both. As significant as Cink’s victory was, and as wistfully disappointing Watson’s second-place may be, the real lesson of Tom Watson and Turnberry came with his second shot on the final hole.

He hit an 8 iron, perhaps it should have been a 9. That’s an easy conjecture having seen the result. He hit an 8 and hit the green with accuracy, and was pleased, or so he said, and then watch the ball run past the hole and into difficulty. Four days of opportunity and tenacity defeated by too much momentum and an implacable, unnamed, unseen rub of the green.
Thanks, Tom, for the thrill, for the smooth, defined approach, for the belief that something was with you on the course, for the genuine disappointment you were brave enough to show and, in so doing, validate your heart as well as your playing. Thanks for making the odds-makers, look silly.

Thanks for bringing a generation back to loving the game. Commentators speculated that your victory would have prompted many ex-golfers to dust off their clubs; I’ll suggest that not winning will bring back even more because we’re not champions, we miss shots, we carry disappointments for too many holes, and we don’t expect to defeat the course, but just, perhaps, for a few swings, master ourselves. In the hyper-competitive professional sports world of win-at-all-costs, of athletes selling themselves to the highest bidder, of prima-donna, physically-gifted lawbreakers receiving multi-million dollar contracts as a form of therapy, you simply played magnificently and, like the Greek heroes, were defeated by fate. In watching that ball land well, but roll up the 18th green, we were reminded that we love the thrill of golf, that we recognize the nobility of struggle, especially yours, and, most importantly, that we are human.

Your lost reward saddens me, but I also know that you gained a great victory fighting the elements at Turnberry, a victory over the complacency of age. You dared to seize an opportunity, to use it worthily, to bring it to climax and to leave it with grace. For those of us over sixty, retired, facing shifting purpose, envisioning past rewards and uncertain futures, your performance was an inspiration whose realest merit was in the doing, not the winning and not just within the world of golf. I’ll do my best to remember it when I wake up each morning and hope to see you compete again at St. Andrew’s.

(@ 2009 )